When it’s over 90
in July alfalfa gets dry
and blows into the knotter
and the knots won’t stay tied
So you ride on the bouncing back
where each ke-chunk of the plunger
blows chaff in your eye as you search for
loose ends of twine that you finally find
and tie into a new knot, with love, or not

Then you

pile them in piles of five
to keep the wet weather at bay
and you pile them any which way
or you pile them with love and pride
pile them right like Frank Lloyd Wright

Hurried by a wind blowing in from Alaska
You handle that same bale again in the fall
tossing it up on the wagon, kneeing it with
bloody knees through thistle-torn jeans, or
an overhand flip with a three-tined fork and
the grace and precision of a pole vault champ

Fourth time you see that bale
you unload that wagon and make a stack
while chaff turns your collar to sandpaper
and you can do it, so when you stand back
you can see every bale fits without a crack

Fifth time you see that bale
it’s winter and maybe forty below
prying frozen cubes out of that stack
and onto the sled and down to the shed
where the cattle are waiting, with steam
rising from hot breath and fresh manure
and you carefully cut each Ariadne thread
so not even Theseus could follow it back
through their labyrinth of seven stomachs

Next time you see it is in late spring
when four feet of crap in the calf shed has
melted to the bottom and you’re in and out
with the front end loader and the ammonia
clearing a whole winter from your sinuses

And then off to the fields to spread it out and
complete the circle, trying to stay up wind
and as old Bob used to say, “keeping your
mouth open to keep your face clean”

All that to feed your family, and the world
all that with love, or not